Monday, March 16, 2009

One of Our Favorite Heroes: Vasiliy Arkhipov


Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov (Russian: Василий Александрович Архипов) (1926-1999) was a Soviet naval officer. During the Cuban Missile Crisis he prevented the launch of a nuclear torpedo and therefore a possible nuclear war.

On October 27, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, a group of eleven United States Navy destroyers and the aircraft carrier USS Randolph trapped a nuclear-armed Soviet Foxtrot class submarine B-59 near Cuba and started dropping practice depth charges, explosives intended to force the submarine to come to the surface for identification. Allegedly, the captain of the submarine, Valentin Grigorievitch Savitsky, believing that a war might already have started, prepared to launch a retaliatory nuclear-tipped torpedo.

Three officers on board the submarine — Savitsky, Political Officer Ivan Semonovich Maslennikov, and Second Captain Arkhipov — were authorized to launch the torpedo if they agreed unanimously in favour of doing so. An argument broke out among the three, in which only Arkhipov was against the launch, eventually persuading Savitsky to surface the submarine and await orders from Moscow. The nuclear warfare which presumably would have ensued was thus averted.

At the conference commemorating the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis held in Havana on 13 October 2002, Robert McNamara admitted that nuclear war had come much closer than people had thought. Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, said that "a guy called Vasili Arkhipov saved the world."

In Aleksandr Mozgovoy's 2002 book, Cuban Samba of the "Foxtrot" Quartet: Soviet Submarines during the Year 1962 Caribbean Crisis, a participant of the events, retired Commander Vadim Pavlovich Orlov, presents the events less dramatically (the captain lost his temper, but the two other officers calmed him down).

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